Game Reviewby Richard Eisenbeis,
Six months ago, the small Japanese island of Tanegashima was the site of a battle where a group of high schoolers challenged a military grade mecha with their homemade giant robot and saved the world. Now that the dust has settled, otaku, loving father, and self-proclaimed super hacker Itaru “Daru” Hashida makes his way to the island. But little does he know that his arrival heralds the beginning of a new adventure, filled with realistic robotics and reality-altering delusions where the fate of the timeline itself hangs in the balance.
The Science Adventure Series is a franchise of Japanese visual novels that mixes grounded science with pseudoscience to create sci-fi adventures with a realistic base. Though there are several spin-offs and side stories, Robotics;Notes DASH marks the sixth game in the core series. Past games Chaos;HEAd and Chaos;Child dealt with reality-altering delusions, while Steins;Gate and Steins;Gate 0 deal with time travel. Robotics;Notes DASH's own predecessor, Robotics;Notes, dealt with robotics, leading up to the idea of building a realistic giant robot.
But Robotics;Notes DASH is not simply a sequel focusing on the kids from Robotics;Notes. Instead, it is a full-on crossover that adds Daru, a main character from Steins;Gate, to the further adventures of these robot-building teens. The first five to six hours of the game are the common route of the story, detailing Daru's first meeting with the members of the Tanegashima High School Robotics Club, the second coming of Robotics;Notes' big bad Kou Kimijima at the Tanegashima “Flintlock and Robot Festival,” and how Daru and the robotics club members battle to foil Kou's latest evil plan.
Unfortunately, it's not as exciting as that sounds.
The ongoing “battle” against Kou in the common route basically involves Daru and the teens dealing with problems that aren't exactly dangerous—like every girl in the immediate area being transformed into a catgirl maid or having to beat Kou in a game of catch. Along the way, the gang hunts for geotags that are supposedly the key to stopping Kou—though they often get distracted by things like playing around at the festival or having a swimsuit party at the beach. Even the big climax at the end of the route is little more than a joke that makes Kou seem like a minor speed bump rather than the world-ending threat he was in the original Robotics;Notes.
After completing the common route, the story continues into one of five additional routes, each focusing on a different character: Junna, Frau, Subaru, Airi, or Nae. As Robotics;Notes DASH is a choose-your-own-adventure-style visual novel, which of these you experience is dependent on the choices you make in the common route—though it would be an exaggeration to say there's much in the way of decision-,making. Your only choices in the entire game are where to search for geotags on the two or three occasions that you're prompted to go looking for them. Each of the five possible routes takes an additional two or three hours to complete and falls into one of two categories: serious drama or silly comedy (though all five do have at least some mixture of the two).
To be frank, these five routes are almost a chore. While each deal with how the Robotics;Notes characters are continuing to develop in the months since the first game—and they do show some solid insight into the personal crises plaguing the characters—other than Nae's route, they do little to expand the franchise's overall story. That said, they do lay the groundwork for the two canon routes of the story, Akiho's route and its continuation, the Daru route, which are unlocked when all five other routes are completed. But while Akiho's route is strong in character and has an excellent action climax, it's all just a prelude to the real story: Daru's route.
To say Daru's route kicks everything up a notch would be a severe understatement. While most of the game focuses on personal conflicts rather than external ones, the climax of Robotics;Notes DASH is as tension-filled as that of Robotics;Notes. Its only real problem is actually how similar it plays out to the original's climax. You know the drill: heroes need to get to a place on Tanegashima to stop the bad guy. Bad Guy is protected by robots. Good guys ready their giant robot and head out to fight.
But while the similarities are a hindrance, it's in the differences that this game shines. The characters have evolved in the six months since Robotics;Notes. Some are ready to step up into the leadership roles awaiting them while others are simply no longer willing to sit on the sidelines while others do the fighting for them. It's solid character development that shows our heroes can still change and grow even after getting their “happy endings” in the last game.
On a meta level, what sets Robotics;Notes DASH apart from its predecessors is how prominently it connects to the other games in the Science Adventure Series. Past games have made some connections here and there. In Chaos;Child, Mio chats on the phone with Kurisu from Steins;Gate and later plans to evacuate the characters of that game to the Future Gadget Lab. Neidhardt from Chaos;HEAd appears on various online message boards seen throughout the rest of the series—as do Daru and Kurisu's online alter egos. The mysterious Committee of 300 is directly connected to all the villains in the franchise. Heck, Daru even designs the weapon used to defeat Kou Kimijima in the first Robotics;Notes. However, despite these examples, there is little to no direct intervention between each game's cast. Past characters simply show up as rare off-screen cameos, and each game's respective heroes are left to overcome their trials alone. But this is not the case in Robotics;Notes DASH.
In the game, Daru's twitter is constantly being blown up by Kurisu, Mayuri, Luka, Moeka, and Faris. Each day in game, you are treated to a new heap of messages. At first, they're just about trivial things, but later they contain advice related to the challenges Daru is facing in the plot. As you near the end of the game, you even learn what Okabe's been doing since the events of Steins;Gate. This revelation also adds importance to the events of Steins;Gate 0 by showing that many of the personal connections and character decisions made in the Beta worldlines also happen in the Steins;Gate worldline.
And while none but Daru and Nae appear in person, the Steins;Gate characters do interact directly with the characters of Robotics;Notes in the game's true ending route. It's a real treat that makes the game feel like a vital stepping stone toward some sort of climax for the entire Science Adventure Series, where all our heroes might join together as one. However, this connection with past games does raise an issue of its own. While you'd think that the game overall would connect most closely with Steins;Gate—as Daru's nom de plume is right there in the title—all the game's routes except Daru and Nae's are far more related to Chaos;HEAd than Steins;Gate.
Most of the odd plot events have to do with the Noah IV machine our heroes used in the final battle with Kou the first time around. If you don't know the pseudo-science behind the Noah IV, gigolomaniacs, and delusions—which is covered extensively in Chaos;HEAd and Chaos;Child—then it all might as well be magic, in which case it clashes badly with the far more grounded science of Steins;Gate and engineering design of Robotics;Notes, especially when the reality-altering tech is almost exclusively used to get some cheap laugh or another. And while the game briefly tries to explain what the Noah IV does, the few sentences it gives are far from what's needed to make it seem like something a new player could readily accept.
On the visual side of things, while the backgrounds are all 2D, the character models are not. Like in the original Robotics;Notes, all the characters are presented as detailed 3D models. The game gets the most out of these as well; often, two or three models will be on screen at the same time, sometimes facing Daru and sometimes not. During these scenes, not only do you get the expressions of the people talking, but you can see how non-speaking characters react in real time due to their facial expressions.
On the audio side, the voice acting is great with the entire cast from Robotics;Notes returning. But Tomokazu Seki's Daru steals the spotlight as he expertly portrays a man who's a lovable goof on the surface but actually carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders in secret. The music is likewise great. The game's main theme “Avant Story” especially stands out. Written and composed by the game's director (and Science Adventure Series creator) Chiyomaru Shikura, not only is it a catchy song, but its lyrics directly hint at the events to come in the game. Oh, and there's also the special ending song “Tu Ru Tu Ru Dance”, which is as cute as it is funny.
All in all, Robotics;Notes DASH is a mixed bag to say the least. The game's events fall into one of three categories: 1) silly fluff that does nothing to affect the overall story; 2) personal character development which ultimately proves to be irrelevant as it doesn't happen in the canon route of the story; and 3) moments that build a greater connection between the characters of Steins;Gate and those of Robotics;Notes, setting the stage for the future to come. And while options one and two are harmless enough in a vacuum, you have to spend more than a dozen hours wading through them before you get to the good stuff.
To put it another way, if you're playing because you're a Robotics;Notes fan, you'll likely enjoy this game. If you're playing for the Steins;Gate connections, it's going to feel like a slog until the moment everything suddenly becomes worth all the time you put in.
Overall : B-
Graphics : B
Sound/Music : A-
Gameplay : B-
Presentation : B+
+ Story directly connects Steins;Gate to Robotics;Notes
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